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Dec 29, 2015

Sailability get into racing – and take the prize

This season has seen Sailability members and volunteers take the Sailability aim of getting more disabled people on the water and pushed it a bit further through participation in dinghy and yacht racing fixtures in SYC and beyond.

In August, the club took “Ollie”, a brand new Sailability version of the RS Venture Keel donated by the Wooden Spoon charity, and “Martin”, a Laser Stratos, down to Hayling Island Sailing Club to take part in the Chichester Harbour Race Week. With its forward facing seats and joystick steering, “Ollie” certainly caught the attention of a lot of people and led to interest in how people could take part in Sailability in their area.

While neither “Ollie” nor “Martin” were challenging for top spot, taking part in the race week did whet the appetite of Sailability members to make racing a more regular feature of Sailability activities. So, more in hope of having fun mixing it with the big boys, than in expectation of success, it was decided to enter the Autumn Race Series.

Sailing ‘Geronimo’, one of the club’s 23ft Sonar keelboats, and under the experienced guidance of Kevin Headon, the Sailability team included five Sailability members with physical, visual and intellectual impairments and five able-bodied volunteers. The crew hadn’t sailed together as a team before the series and most had little or no experience of racing in the Sonars.

The conditions for this year’s Autumn Race series turned out to be better than could have been hoped for. The Bart’s Bash race in sunny, late summer conditions gave way to a series of races in mainly moderate breezes with small seas. This suited the Sonar and as a result, by the end of race 4, the team had secured an overall win and two second places and was leading the pack overall.

The pressure was then on to keep the advantage into the second half of the series. A couple of lighter wind races required some tactical sailing under the stand-in skipper Ian O’Dell to record a third place in race 6 and keep us in contention. With expectations now rising, it would all come down to the final race. Conditions were on the strong side for the little Sonar and our closest rivals were taking no prisoners. Nonetheless we clung on literally and figuratively for a fourth place which was just enough to take the prize amongst those boats sailing under the SCC Handicap.

Racing on the Sonars was a steep learning curve for everyone as Kevin took us through the drills for preparing the boat for racing, working together to achieve a slick spinnaker hoist and drop, and understanding the strategy and tactics of a successful sailing race. But the team quickly gelled and with more boat speed in the tank as the team gains skills and experience, other racing crews may need to watch out for the Sailability team in 2016.

Sailability always values new volunteers and particularly needs SYC members with safety boat or dinghy/keelboat skippering experience to help disabled people get involved in sailing and develop their sailing skills. If you would be interested in supporting Sailability, please contact Chris Pelling sussexsailability@gmail.com